Constructive feedback examples using the SAIL model

Let’s be honest – giving constructive feedback to your employees is a skill that takes time and patience to hone. A healthy culture of continuous feedback stems from the ability to give effective feedback that empowers people. Plus, when you work in people management, it becomes an integral function of your job.


The purpose of constructive feedback at work is to help your employees identify areas of improvement, and equip them with the right tools or solutions to empower their personal and professional growth. Constructive feedback includes positive and negative feedback.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the difference between constructive and destructive feedback. While constructive feedback is meant to be beneficial to the employee and the organization, destructive feedback is essentially a direct attack on the individual where their faults are pointed out with no corrective support. Having a structure or framework in place – such as the SAIL feedback model – when discussing employee feedback, is key to steering the conversation away from any potentially destructive criticism and keeping you on track to make your manager-employee evaluation as constructive as possible.

In this article, we’ll cover the SAIL feedback model, its benefits, and two useful feedback examples to help you put this framework into action effectively.

RELATED: Improve employee feedback conversations with the Pendleton Feedback Model

What is the SAIL model?

In short, SAIL stands for Share, Ask, Ideas, and Learned. Here’s the breakdown:

s.a.i.l. model

Here’s how it works:

You want to begin by allowing your team member to share their personal thoughts. An effective way to facilitate this would be by using your HR software to send out a check-in form several days before the planned 1:1 feedback conversation. This will give them some time to reflect on their performance, goals, and areas of improvement before the in-depth catch-up. Remember, feedback is fluid. Practicing active listening before providing your input lets your employee feel heard.

FREE RESOURCE: Manager 1:1 check-in template

Feedback Analytics and Sentiment Analysis | intelliHR

Once they have discussed how they think they are performing, ask your team member questions to encourage deeper reflection. As their leader, this provides you with a better understanding of their thought process, decision-making abilities, and limitations.

The next step is to offer your ideas on improving the current situation – or if everything is going well, then offer ideas on maintaining the positive momentum. It’s encouraged that the employee records these ideas for future reference. intelliHR lets users comment on goals or write private diary notes that can be shared with their managers.

Finally, get your employee to close the session by recapping their learnings and key takeaways. This summary allows them to take accountability on planning out their next steps. It also gives you the opportunity to clarify any doubts or key takeaways if needed.

When you’re using the SAIL model to give constructive feedback, always remember that feedback discussions should be flexible. It’s natural to go back and forth on some of the steps as long as your employee is getting the most value out of it.

Benefits of the SAIL model for giving and receiving feedback

The SAIL structure is commonly used in educational settings. It provides the learner with the opportunity to give and receive feedback from peers during the early stages of learning so that new ideas can be easily integrated into their work.

However, this framework also has great potential in human resources. When used effectively, the SAIL feedback model lets you:

  1. Create an open-ended approach to giving and receiving feedback. The receiver gets to take accountability for their next steps, as well as get more creative with solving their challenges.

  2. Practice active listening on both ends. Rather than one-way conversations from a supervisor to their direct report, it creates a safe and open environment that fosters continuous feedback loops.

  3. Make the most of your HR software. Employee listening tools like check-ins, pulses, and employee sentiment analysis generate real-time analytics to help you track your team member’s progress. That way, you’ll be equipped with in-depth insights before entering feedback discussions.

RELATED: 5 Feedback mistakes that kill employee engagement

How to use the SAIL model

Now that we’ve broken down the SAIL model and discussed its key benefits, let’s look at two tangible ways it can be used to shape positive and negative constructive feedback through real-life workplace scenarios.

Negative feedback example

Scenario #1 – The underperformer – Your new hire has not been achieving performance expectations and struggling to meet deadlines.

Feedback conversation:

  • Employee (S): Settling into this new role is taking longer than I anticipated. Although I have a manageable number of tasks, I can’t wrap my head around what’s expected from them and how much time is really needed to deliver the quality of work expected of me.

  • Manager (A): Why do you think it’s taking you longer than you hoped? How can I support you in this situation?

  • Employee: I think I need more time to understand and adapt to our business processes. Perhaps, I should familiarize myself better with our services so that I can be more confident in my knowledge of the company.

  • Manager (I): That’s understandable. So, I’ll share a few suggestions on how to overcome your challenges and you can figure out what works best for you. Firstly, I can help you prioritize your tasks to ensure that you’re completing the most important ones on time. As for business knowledge, I’d recommend you block out some time in your week to go over the business policies and processes. I can also provide you with some useful resources to help you gain more industry knowledge. You show great promise. I’m sure that once you get comfortable with the ins and outs of the business, you’ll easily produce quality work and unleash your full potential! Would that be helpful?

  • Employee (L): Thank you – that all makes sense! Based on those suggestions, I’ve realized I need to make the time to (and block it out) really get to grips with the business. I’ve been able to prioritize my tasks in order of importance but if I need more help with that, I now know I can come to you. I’ll also carve out 15 minutes everyday to brush up on my industry knowledge.

Positive feedback example

Scenario #2 – The high performer – Your employee, who recently moved from the operations team to the client-facing department, has been surpassing their KPIs and receiving glowing reviews from clients.

  • Employee (S): Things have been going well lately! I’ve been more motivated with work after moving into this department. The move has been a welcome change of pace and I’m enjoying the dynamics of my new role.

  • Manager (A): That’s great to hear! We’re so happy we could find a professional development opportunity for you internally. I want to ensure that you’re supported as you continue to succeed in this role. Can I ask what’s driving your motivation?

  • Employee: My motivation definitely derives from the fact that I get to work with people everyday. As a natural people person, I gain personal satisfaction from knowing I can interact with customers directly and help them solve their problems.

  • Manager (I): Well, it sounds like you’ve found the perfect fit. My only suggestion is that you pace yourself. I’d recommend practicing a few wellbeing exercises or even going on short walks to manage your motivation and energy levels. We don’t want you to burn out, so if you have any questions or need any support, please reach out.

  • Employee (L): That’s great advice actually. I tend to go into overdrive towards the beginning and burn out. I’ll start to pace myself by scheduling in short walks and exercise sessions – after all, I want to be in this role for the long haul – this is a marathon, not a sprint. Thank you!

As you can see, the SAIL model can be an effective HR tool for working through feedback in multiple situations; whether your conversation is a typically challenging one or you’re giving a positive evaluation, it pays to have a structure behind this to get the most out of your feedback and support your employees through the process. To learn more about the value of giving feedback to employees, here are 7 reasons we all need feedback at work.